The Untold Truth Of Maitreyi Ramakrishnan

This article contains spoilers for "Never Have I Ever" Season 3.

It hasn't taken Maitreyi Ramakrishnan long to make a big impact in the world of entertainment. Born and raised in the Toronto suburb of Mississauga, the young actor is the child of first-generation Tamil immigrants who fled Sri Lanka during the country's civil war and entered Canada as refugees (via Now Toronto). 

Ramakrishnan's life was that of a typical Canadian teenager until 2019, when she was plucked from obscurity at age 17 and cast in the leading role of Devi Vishwakumar in "Never Have I Ever," a Netflix comedy co-created by Mindy Kaling. The series is inspired by Kaling's experiences as a South-Asian teen caught in a cultural clash between the traditional background of her immigrant parents and the influence of her American homeland. Three seasons in, "Never Have I Ever" has won critical acclaim, particularly for Ramakrishnan's performance. 

The Netflix hit landed the young actor front and center on Hollywood's radar, leading to subsequent voice roles in the Disney+ animated comedy "Turning Red" and the "My Little Pony" franchise. She may still be in the early stages of her career, but it's a certainty we'll be seeing more of this talented star in the years to come. Read on to discover the untold truth of Maitreyi Ramakrishnan.

Maitreyi Ramakrishnan beat out 15,000 actors

Maitreyi Ramakrishnan's journey to stardom began on April 11, 2019, when writer Mindy Kaling posted an announcement on Instagram that she was hosting open casting calls for her upcoming series. Among the roles being cast was an American girl of South-Asian descent, of approximately 15 to 18 years of age. 

One of the many who saw that post was Ramakrishnan's best friend, who forwarded it to her and asked her to come record a video audition. "I'm lying on my couch, ready to take a nice afternoon nap. ... I remember feeling exhausted, but I was like, 'Okay, let's do it,' just because I honestly only wanted to hang out with my best friend," Ramakrishnan told Variety. Of course, noted Refinery29, Ramakrishnan wasn't a complete neophyte when it came to acting. An aspiring thespian, she'd starred in a few high school musicals and intended to study drama at Toronto's York University after graduating. However, she had yet to act professionally.

After she submitted her tape, casting directors liked what they saw and asked Ramakrishnan to send another... and another. After sending six recorded auditions, Ramakrishan told Deadline, she was invited to Los Angeles for a screen test. "At that point I was like, 'Whoa, wait. Hold on. I've never even been to L.A. before. Hold on,'" she recalled, noting that she was one of more than 15,000 to audition for the role. 

She used her prom photo as her head shot

To say that Maitreyi Ramakrishnan's casting in "Never Have I Ever" took her by surprise is an understatement. In fact, the whole thing happened so quickly that Deadline's report announcing her casting was accompanied not by a professional headshot (she hadn't had the time to take one), but by her high school prom photo. "It's so embarrassing that's what went on my Deadline article," she told Refinery29. "But I think that'll be funny when I'm an actress in my 30s — I'll look back and laugh, hopefully."

When "Never Have I Ever" creators Mindy Kaling and Lang Fisher decided to give the role of Devi to Ramakrishnan, they wanted to surprise her with the news. They set up a call, pretending it was yet another audition requirement. "They're like, 'Congratulations!' And I think I just dead-a** said, 'Y'all, that's brazy,'" she told Refinery29, clarifying the meaning of "brazy": "Better than crazy. Duh. Take notes."

While Ramakrishnan may have been surprised by her casting, her parents admitted they had an inkling she had bona fide talent when she performed in high school comedies. "She had everyone in the audience in stitches," said her mother, Kiruthiha Kulendiren. "She inherently knew how to make you laugh and cry and all the in-between complexity of human emotions." 

Maitreyi Ramakrishan is 'proudly Canadian'

Maitreyi Ramakrishan may film "Never Have I Ever" in Los Angeles, but she continues to live in the land of her birth. "I'm still proudly Canadian," she proclaimed in an interview with Shondaland. She provided an example of her Canuck cred by revealing that she gifted the cast and crew of "Never Have I Ever" with maple syrup in whiskey bottles at the wrap of the series' third season. 

Her Canadian-ness also came into play when she landed her first-ever voice role in Pixar's animated feature "Turning Red," playing the best friend of a Canadian girl who transforms into a giant red panda. Interviewed by Daily Hive, Ramakrishnan shared her excitement that her introduction into the world of voice acting was something so dear to her heart. "I can't ask for a better movie to join the Pixar family with," Ramakrishnan said. "It's truly amazing how it's a Canadian story about an Asian Canadian girl. I think that's awesome."

She revels in Canadians' international reputation for being polite and easygoing. "I used to joke on set that every good cast has one Canadian, so you're welcome," Ramakrishnan quipped to Refinery29.

She's passionate about South-Asian representation

There's no question that Maitreyi Ramakrishnan is proud to be a woman of South-Asian heritage in a hit television series, yet she admits that the type of opportunity presented by "Never Have I Ever" is a rarity. "Being South-Asian, growing up I didn't really see any characters that looked like me," she explained in an interview with Elle. "I realized how normalized that became for me. It's a dangerous way of living, living from the shadows," she mused. "Nobody should feel like that, no matter what your background is, how you identify."

As a result, she's become a fervent advocate for better representation, and not tokenism, in film and television. Just as no one should be hidden, everyone should be represented genuinely, the actor told Elle. Ramakrishnan observed that progress has been made, but there's still a long way to go for a more diverse Hollywood.

Speaking with Who What Wear, the star praised "Never Have I Ever" for its inclusivity in casting, even beyond the South-Asian characters. "We're not just that brown-girl show. We are just a funny show who happens to have a brown girl at the front," she said. Plus, she told Variety, the show's themes are so universal that they transcend skin color. "It's organic, it's relatable. And that's why many people — not just young South Asian, brown girls — can relate to it," Ramakrishnan explained.

Maitreyi Ramakrishnan totally relates to Devi

One key reason why Maitreyi Ramakrishnan was selected out of 15,000 to play Devi Vishwakumar in "Never Have I Ever" is the simple fact that she herself can totally relate to the character she portrays on-screen. That was crystal clear when she and series co-creator Mindy Kaling were interviewed by CBC News. Discussing Devi's love triangle with Paxton Hall-Yoshida (Darren Barnet) and Ben Gross (Jaren Lewison), Ramakrishnan was asked whether she personally was on "Team Paxton" or "Team Ben." She offered a definitive answer. "I'm on the obvious best team, of course: Team Devi," she replied, jokingly declaring, "I am the proud president, prime minister, of Team Devi." 

However, that's not to say that she and Devi are identical — particularly when it comes to Devi's relentless pursuit of losing her virginity to Paxton. "When I was 15 like Devi, I wasn't actively trying to seek that out," she told Refinery29. Still, she added, "As much as Devi is trying to have sex, I love that she's a girl who is open about it, which we don't normally get to see. For some reason, it's taboo to think about sex when you're a girl."

In fact, Ramakrishnan told Time, even if she wasn't the star of "Never Have I Ever," she'd undoubtedly be a fan. "I wish I had a show like this growing up," she admitted.

The life lessons she's learned from Never Have I Ever

While viewers of "Never Have I Ever" watched protagonist Devi Vishwakumar absorb key life lessons, the same has been true for the actor who portrays her. "I've learned a lot in these past few years of my life, gone through a lot of change," Maitreyi Ramakrishnan shared in an interview with Variety. "One [lesson] that I have really reminded myself in this past bit is that no matter what happens, I'm going to be okay."

As she explained, she can have a tendency to be overtaken by nerves, resulting in anxiety and stress. However, the actor has developed her own unique coping mechanisms in order to circumvent those feelings whenever she senses them starting to come on. "I should trust in myself that I've worked hard, and I'm a cool person, and who knows what's gonna happen," Ramakrishnan told Variety. 

One of those anxious times was the filming of "Never Have I Ever" Season 2. Ramakrishnan worried that the show's early success was too good to be true, but the series' creators reminded her of her calling. "After all that anxiety, we were having fun," Ramakrishnan told ET Canada. Ultimately, she's come to realize that, despite her anxiety, things will turn out as they should. "It'll be alright," the star explained.

She has no patience for anyone who can't pronounce her name

Maitreyi Ramakrishnan's name isn't exactly a typical Hollywood moniker, and can understandably be difficult to pronounce for those not familiar with Tamil surnames. However, Ramakrishnan is also quick to point out that her name isn't that difficult to pronounce, especially if one simply gives it a bit of effort. "If you can say the character names in 'Game Of Thrones,' you can say my Tamil name," she declared in a 2019 interview with Now Toronto.

A couple years later, Ramakrishnan took to Twitter to share a voice memo in which she expresses frustration at hearing her name "butchered." To drive the point home, she demonstrated how to correctly pronounce her name, pronouncing it as "My-tray-yee Ra-ma-krish-nin." That precise pronunciation, she explained, is simply how she likes to say it — and how she wants to hear others pronounce it, as well. "I'm not expecting people to switch up their accents on me," she said, "just asking for basic respect."

Not long after, Ramakrishan gave another interview to Now Toronto to address a controversy regarding her name. The problem was spawned by those who insist her pronunciation differs from its pronunciation in ancient Sanskrit, accusing her of being "white-washed." "If you speak Sanskrit fluently, good for you. I'm incredibly impressed," Ramakrishnan responded sarcastically. "Don't tell me how to say my name. I'm not going to tell you how to say yours. How you say it yourself is the right way."

She auditioned for Pixar's Turning Red from her bedroom

After entering the world of show business with a bang in "Never Have I Ever," Maitreyi Ramakrishnan landed her second role in another high-profile project: Pixar's animated film "Turning Red," in which she voices the character Priya. Her second professional role also marked Ramakrishnan's first foray into the world of voice acting.

As she recalled for Daily Hive, her audition for "Turning Red" could not have been more different than the multiple hoops she jumped through for "Never Have I Ever." In fact, she revealed, she recorded her "Turning Red" tape from the comfort of her bedroom in the Toronto suburb of Mississauga. "I was just like lying on my bed with my phone in hand, voice memo like, 'Okay, I got this,'" she recalled. 

Even though she nailed the audition, Ramakrishnan admitted that working with arguably the pre-eminent animation studio in the world was more than a little daunting. "I mean, geez, starting off with big leagues with Pixar. No running start here," she told Complex. When creating a character through voiceover, the actor said, "Your imagination is your only limit, really." Ramakrishnan also remained somewhat circumspect about voice acting. "I just say words. I show up. That's what I do," she said.

How she felt sharing the screen with John McEnroe

Arguably the biggest casting coup in "Never Have I Ever" was nabbing tennis legend John McEnroe as narrator, the famously tempestuous athlete voicing the inner thoughts of Maitreyi Ramakrishnan's character. Given that Ramakrishnan was an absolute Hollywood neophyte when she landed the role, it would be easy to assume that she experienced some intimidation about working with such an iconic figure. Yet she didn't, and she had a pretty good explanation for why. "Honestly, I had no idea who he was," the star admitted to Variety. "I definitely had to Google him up," she confirmed in an interview with USA Today

As for how she managed to avoid attaining any knowledge of such a famous person, Ramakrishnan revealed all during an appearance on "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon." "I'm not a sports kind of gal," she shrugged. When she did learn about McEnroe's stature in the world of tennis after that Google search, her newfound knowledge about him didn't necessarily make their first meeting any less awkward. "On set when I met him, I was like, 'Hey, do you, like, still sport?'" she recalled, cutely adding, "I'm just trying to make conversation with friends." Ultimately, she tried another tactic to bond with McEnroe that proved infinitely more successful in sparking their friendship: "And then I asked him if he wanted to go to crafty and get cookies. And he said, 'Yeah.'" 

The life-changing advice Mindy Kaling gave her

Working alongside a Hollywood powerhouse such as actor-writer-director-producer Mindy Kaling has been something of an education for Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, particularly given that "Never Have I Ever" was her first professional acting role. Speaking with PopSugar, Ramakrishnan identified the piece of advice that Kaling and co-creator Lang Fisher gave her on the last day of filming the first season. She recalled, "[Kaling] and Lang Fisher were both telling me to stay true to myself and stay authentic because I've made it this far doing just that and being myself, so there's no real reason to change it up now." While Ramakrishnan acknowledged that there's room for self-growth, she aimed to follow the co-creators' advice to keep being who she is.

Interviewed by Elle, Ramakrishnan gushed, "Mindy is the coolest. I absolutely love talking to her and I'm really glad to say that she's my mentor and actually my first boss." Proving that she's comfortable with her famous mentor, the young actor would even send Kaling homemade memes.

Speaking with Bay Street Bull, Ramakrishnan said Kaling lauded her for being so professional at such a young age, insisting she herself couldn't do the same thing. "And then I'm, like, 'Bro, you did this when it was like years ago, when it was way harder to do this,'" Ramakrishnan said. "'You're the OG pioneer here. I'm on your shoulders.'"

Diversity in gaming is important to Maitreyi Ramakrishnan

When undertaking the role she's given herself as an advocate for South Asian representation in film and TV, Maitreyi Ramakrishnan has done more than just highlight the issue in interviews. In fact, in 2020 Elle reported on the partnership she entered with Gillette Venus, resulting in the Skinclusive Summer Line contributing over 250 diverse skin tones to the wildly popular video game "Animal Crossing." 

Ramakrishnan was passionate about the initiative and told Elle, "I've loved Animal Crossing since I was a kid, so I'm incorporating something that I love to do for fun with skin inclusivity, which really means a lot to me." Sharing her excitement for the new avatars, the actor added, "There's all different skin tones, scars, tattoos — which is amazing." While thrilled about Gillette, she challenged other beauty brands to wake up and create products for the many consumers who aren't represented.

As Ramakrishnan told Allure, having so many different skin choices available for "Animal Crossing" avatars enhances the game-playing experience. "It just makes it that much more personal. ... It's a nice little inclusion, and you feel seen," she said.

Maitreyi Ramakrishnan is happy to grow up with her famous character

Over the course of "Never Have I Ever," fans have watched Maitreyi Ramakrishnan's character, Devi Vishwakumar, grow into a confident young woman — something made even more pronounced by the time-jump twist at the end of the show's third season. 

Of course, Ramakrishnan — unlike most humans — has the luxury of being able to watch herself in previous seasons of the show, and has seen herself evolve and mature right along with her character. "I got to see like a little reel of footage that we took all the way from Season 1 to even filming parts of Season 4," she told CBC News. "And I watched it and I was like, 'Wow. Like, this kid's grown up, like, this character.' But then I, of course, see my face and I'm like, 'That kid has grown up.'"

Meanwhile, Mindy Kaling told CBC News that it's nearly impossible not to feel maternal toward Ramakrishnan and the other young actors who have been bringing her vision to life. She's confirmed that the show is in its home stretch and will conclude after its fourth season, slated for 2023. "That's the thing about doing these shows with young actors, is it's so bittersweet to see the end of the journey," Kaling explained. "It's emotional. And it's — you hope that you didn't scar these young people for life."

She received backlash after becoming famous

Making the leap from Toronto high school student to TV star was a jarring experience for Maitreyi Ramakrishnan, and there was no "how to be famous" guidebook for her to consult. "People know my face," she marvelled in an interview with Bay Street Bull. "This is crazy." 

While the majority of fan interactions she's experienced have been positive ones, it's an inevitability that there will be some negative experiences tucked among them. That, she told Now Toronto, has been particularly true when it comes to social media. "For my own mental health, I've learned from my mistakes during Season 1," Ramakrishnan said. "I used to go through all the positive comments until I landed on a negative one. I don't even mean negative critiques of the show. It's more like, 'Just go die.'"

She's also come to realize that social media can be something of a no-win situation for her, recalling some of the criticism she's received, even for her arm hair. People are so intrusive and racist that they will find something to complain about, no matter what she does. "I'm damned if I do, damned if I don't," Ramakrishnan said.

She's an art fanatic with a love for Van Gogh

Maitreyi Ramakrishnan is something of an art buff. Speaking with Now Toronto in 2021, she showcased her five favorite places in her hometown. One of these spots just happened to be the Art Gallery of Ontario. As she recalled, her mother often took her to the gallery when she was a youngster, "Because, you know, art is really cool, so that was a big thing for me." 

Her fascination with art also came into play when, in 2021, she paid her first visit to New York City while promoting "Never Have I Ever." As the The New York Times reported, she took in the popular Immersive Van Gogh art exhibit, in which the work of famed painter Vincent Van Gogh is projected on the walls, ceiling and floors to completely submerge the viewer in the paintings. According to the Times, Ramakrishnan was such a huge fan of Van Gogh's work that her family celebrated her 16th birthday with a cake reminiscent of Van Gogh's iconic "Starry Night" painting. "I think it's just, like, unappreciated genius," said Ramakrishnan of Van Gogh. 

Taking in the exhibit's gift shop and the plethora of merch boasting Van Gogh's paintings and self-portraits, she mused about how an artist who died in penniless obscurity wound up becoming an art superstar posthumously. "It's so crazy how he was not appreciated in his time and now it's like, wait, what?" she declared.